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What is an Arraignment?

a court arraignment hearing form

If you have never been prosecuted nor had a family member or friend that has been prosecuted arraignment may be a new term. However, you may have heard of the term initial arraignment from an investigative drama or a TV show. So, what is an arraignment? An arraignment occurs when a defendant makes their first appearance in court. This first hearing is what is termed an arraignment.

In some states, defendants must be arraigned before the felony and misdemeanor criminal trial process starts. If there is a possibility of jail time arraignment is necessary. For some states, arraignment is only necessary if the defendant is facing felony charges. The rules concerning arraignment differ from one state to another and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In some instances, the time of arraignment occurs just shortly after an individual has been arrested and booked. It is usual for the bail hearing to be held at the same time as the arraignment hearing. If the defendant has not been arrested by law enforcement agencies may be because they received a summons or citation to appear in court arraignment usually on the first court date they attend. A criminal defense attorney can guide you through what you should expect during your arraignment hearing.

What to Expect From an Arraignment?

The term arraignment refers to a subsequent court proceeding before a bench trial or trial by jury. During the arraignment phase, the defendant is formally charged in court. An arraignment is the first thing that occurs when an individual is arrested and the district attorney files a criminal complaint against the individual being accused of the crime.

Below are some of the things that are likely to occur during the initial court appearance:

  • The criminal defendant is informed by the court of the charges and any additional charges against them.
  • The defendant gets to hear from the court they have a right to an attorney.
  • The defendant says if they plead guilty or not guilty to the charges against them.
  • Bail and conditions of release on bail are set by the judge if the defendant was in county jail. If they can’t leave the state as the case progresses the judge will mention it. Bail may not be allowed for a capital offense in certain states.
  • Future court dates are set.
a court arraignment form and pen on a desk

The individual that has been wronged does not have to attend the arraignment hearing but if they want to be present or if their attorney advises that they be there the individual can go. During the preliminary hearing, the court will not ask the accuser to speak but the offending person will be required to make a plea. However, the assistant district attorney or prosecutor may ask the wronged party to speak during the actual trial as a prosecution witness.

Types of Pleas Permitted During an Arraignment

At TF Law we like to give our clients the different plea options that prosecutors are likely to present them with during a pretrial conference. If you are attending an arraignment hearing in South Carolina it is important to have knowledge of the different types of plea agreements and how each type of plea agreement is likely going to impact your future as an individual. That is your chances of getting into college, staying out of jail, finding employment, or your future in general. The type of charges you are facing can affect the type of plea that your lawyer will advise you to make.

Guilty Plea

When you enter into a guilty plea you are legally admitting that you are responsible for committing the offense. Under South Carolina’s laws, a guilty plea leaves you open to the possibility of getting a maximum penalty for the alleged offense.

The only good side of a guilty plea is a speedy trial proceeding but on the downside, the outcome of the criminal process can be detrimental to the life of the defendant especially if they are innocent and were just pleading guilty to make the whole criminal court process go away.

Most of the time you will find that the defendant will not plead guilty during the arraignment stage but will wait until later until a plea bargain is presented to them before the trial start or within a short time after the trial start for misdemeanor crimes or felony charges.

You can take back your guilty plea before the judge formally accepts your guilty arraignment decision. However, once the court accepts your plea and they impose a sentence it may not be possible to withdraw a guilty plea.

Entering a plea of not guilty begins the process in which your attorney will take steps to prepare your case for trial – these steps may include conducting additional investigative work and examining all of the evidence. At any point before a final judgment, you and your attorney may enter plea negotiations with the prosecutor.

Not Guilty Plea

For the defendant to certify that they did not commit the crime in question they enter a not guilty plea.

During this time the other side which most of the time may consist of the district attorney or prosecutor carries the burden of proof. Their job will be to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. A not-guilty plea will lead to a trial.

After taking a not-guilty plea the judge then schedules dates for either pretrial or trial activities.

After the not-guilty plea, your attorney takes the necessary steps toward preparing your case for trial. The steps that your criminal defense attorney can take include conducting further investigation into your case to come up with convincing evidence, looking for defense witnesses, and examining all of the evidence brought against you in the case so they have sufficient evidence during the jury trial.

No Contest Plea

You are going to face similar consequences for both a guilty plea and a no-contest plea. However, the difference is that in this plea you are legally accepting the truthfulness of the facts that have been brought against you.

Even so, there are benefits of a no-contest plea. One of them is that your plea cannot be used against you in a later case (civil or criminal) since you did not legally admit guilt. Also, you may be able to appeal certain decisions that you may not have been able to appeal in the situation where you had pled guilty.

a judge reviewing a court arraignment form

Not every criminal offense has the no-contest option available to them and that goes for both a misdemeanor charge and a felony charge. 

Can Charges be Dropped at an Arraignment Hearing

Criminal charges rarely get dropped or dismissed during initial hearings. However, even if it is rare that the prosecutor has a compelling reason leading them to believe that the accused person has been wrongly charged they can dismiss the charges against them.

Do I Need an Attorney During The Arraignment Procedure?

You don't need to have a lawyer during this criminal proceeding, but having a criminal defense attorney present during the criminal procedure will make a big impact on your case. The judge will advise you of your constitutional rights and one of them is having a criminal defense attorney during the arraignment process. 

If you cannot afford an attorney a court-appointed public defender will represent you. However, due to the number of public trial cases they have to attend a public defender may not be able to negotiate for reasonable bail, fair release agreement, or be wholly present for the exact process 

An experienced attorney can counsel you on how to plea, argue that your bail should be reduced, and even challenge the legality of your arrest or detainment in district court during your first initial appearance. Get in touch with a criminal defense lawyer from TF Law and let us help you with the arraignment process and do our best to keep your criminal record clean. 

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